Search This Blog

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Drawing as Experience

'Kulning 5' 2014 Naomi Kendrick
photo by Andrew Brooks

I have recently returned from Marina Abramovic's 512 hours at the Serpentine gallery. There I encountered; people, a few objects, time and minimal direction as to what I should do, given with the lightest touch. Somehow these things pulled together to provide a profound experience, something wordless that happened in my mind, and that was visible in the faces of other visitors. Something I will never forget.

If the role of art is to hold a mirror up to us all, then for me, with 512 hours and The Artist is Present (2010) Abramovic has done this perfectly. And the accounts of those who disliked the work seem to highlight this, just as much as the praise.
Soon after emerging from 512 hours I found myself in the 2014 portrait award exhibition in the National portrait gallery. Slightly overwhelmed, I watched great crowds of people jostling to get into position, where they could best stand and look directly into the eyes of a painted person. I was struck by how strong that urge to look at others was and how through that urgent gaze, we are attempting to understand more about ourselves. The traditional painted portrait is a very literal example of course, but I feel that ultimately the same exchange is sought when we encounter all art, whether we are sharing in the artists humor, politics or heartache or simply marveling in their ability to manipulate paint. Abramovic has stripped away and distilled to leave a nugget, a simple and direct connection between one another, and with ourselves.

'Untitled' 2014 Naomi Kendrick
photo by Andrew Brooks

Through my work, I attempt to create something that offers a meaningful experience for the audience, and for myself. In recent years drawing, alone and through participatory performances, has felt like the right way for me to reach that point, but why? I think the answer to this connects to 'Abramovic's nugget', in one way it is about finding the most direct means of communication. Drawing; from mind, to hand, to mark is perhaps the most immediate of all art forms, there is something instinctive about it. Also, as a process it can be all encompassing, transporting. I feel it can get to, and articulate, the nitty gritty of what it is to be human. I also love how drawing looks, I am addicted to the possibilities of the mark.

Detail of 'Untitled' 2014 Naomi Kendrick
photo by Andrew Brooks
see full image

I have been drawing as long as I can remember, from dreamily drawing as a child lying in sunlight, to various cold studios, pushing the material or myself to extremes. I have drawn; without using my sight, for extensive periods, in response to sound and in front of live audiences. These drawing processes induce anxiety, joy and many more states of mind, all of which make their way out onto the page. More recently I have been attempting to provoke and harness these states of mind without being 'carried there' exclusively by music or the adrenalin of a performance. I forget when, but the idea of drawing an object in front of me has disappeared for now, its as if I am going back to the dream drawings I made as a child in that patch of light....At the start of each drawing I ready myself, take a deep breath and then jump, out into the unknown. I see drawing as a place to go to, a space to be in. There I think and feel things that otherwise may go unnoticed, test myself, and try to test what drawing can be.

Drawing in Progress (Day One) 
'Corner Drawing 1' 2014 Naomi Kendrick

Drawing in Progress (Day Two) 
'Corner Drawing 1' 2014 Naomi Kendrick

There are others who have taken similar journeys through their drawing. Henri Michaux began as a writer and his drawings and paintings grew out of a frustration with the limitations of the written language; his work was an attempt to discover a new 'universal language', one that enabled him to express himself fully. He pushed his mind, testing it to great extremes using the drug mescaline. At first his written words became marks almost like calligraphy, as he continued to draw and observe his states of mind the marks evolved, sometimes becoming reminiscent of pulsating crowds of organisms under a microscope. This was his mind on the page, yet there is something familiar about the forms he brought into being.

Mescaline Drawing c. 1956-1958 Henri Michaux

Robert Morris created a series of hundreds of 'Blind Time Drawings' between 1973 and 2000 in which he drew blindfolded. Many of them were self imposed challenges around the act of mark making. Morris meticulously documented the action, timing and material for every drawing for example for 'Blind Time 1' 1973 he wrote 'with the eyes closed an attempt is made to tape out and blacken a square figure within an estimated time lapse of 5 minutes. Time stimation error: 5 seconds.'

Blind Time 1 1973 Robert Morris

This rather clinical method shifted into something more personal over time, and towards the end of the series in 1999 Morris made 'Blind Time V. Melancholia'. Through this drawing about the death of his father Morris almost physically relives an intense emotional experience '...I begin at the bottom of the page pressing upward with the strength I remember exerting in lifting his frail body from the bedroom floor where he had fallen...'

Blind Time V. Melancholia 1999 Robert Morris

Michaux and Morris seem to have inhabited drawing fully, their drawings are both evidence of a place visited, and the means of which to get there. I realise now that through my own various drawing processes I have been aiming to get to this point of in-habitation, and will continue to do so. Drawing is my first language, I know it is not the only way, but at some point I always return to it. Michaux himself best explains why...
'I paint just as I write. To discover, to rediscover myself, to find what is truly mine, that which, unbeknown to me, has always belonged to me. To experience at once the surprise of it and the pleasure of recognising it. To bring forth or bear witness to the appearance of a certain vagueness, a certain aura, where others would, or do, see fullness.

To render an impression of 'presence' everywhere, to reveal (and first and foremost to myself) the tangles, the chaotic movement, the extreme liveliness of the 'I know not what' which stirs in my remotest being and seeks a foothold on the shore.'

Henri Michaux 1959

'The Machine' 2014 Naomi Kendrick
photo by Andrew Brooks

1 comment:

  1. This is really great reading Naomi. Thank you. I was moved to write some inconclusive reflections...
    It's interesting because I also remember drawing being my first language and that it always had the ability to be inhabited by me. There were two distinct processes: that of creation and that of showing - or looking at. The former was why I did it - for myself. The latter was when others entered the story. As a child I was making mostly representations of the world I saw and the world in my self. It became a sort of approval-getting process. I might be thick and ugly - but I can draw this... It's taken me a long time to get to the places similar to those you describe - free expression and gesture in response to sound, music, feeling etc. I know it's what I have to do now. But if drawing or making art is in part - as you describe - holding up a mirror to, or for, the viewer then I see people struggling to 'read' such gestural, free, expressive works. And that's just fine by me. The struggle makes the viewer inhabit the drawing.. like Abramovic's work - you are made to open up an inner eye of some kind.
    I've been an admirer of Henri Michaux's work for some time - especially because he breaks out of the bounds of writing to drawing and you can track that process in some of his work. It's a simplification of the language that creates a more complex array of possibilities that can go beyond the written.
    Your work has always produced positive effects on me during this journey - I appreciate it aesthetically and emotionally (if the two can be reasonably separated here), but most of all it inspires me to continue and excites me to see what you do next!

    Jon Barraclough